July 17,  2008

Joe Schwarzer is named director of state’s maritime museums

Joseph K. Schwarzer, who has been executive director of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras village for 12 years, has been appointed director of all three of North Carolina’s maritime museums.

Schwarzer will supervise the museums in Beaufort and Southport, as well as the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum.

His appointment was announced on Monday, July 14. 

As executive director of the 19,000-square-foot Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, Schwarzer marshaled the plan to build the museum, handled fundraising, and oversaw all operations. The Graveyard of the Atlantic, which is not yet finished, became part of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, in 2007. 

“We are pleased to have the wide ranging experience of Joe Schwarzer to lead the maritime museums. His skills in institutional development, museum management, exhibit design, and knowledge of visitor expectations are strong assets to further the mission of the maritime museums,” said Ken Howard, director of the North Carolina Museum of History.

“I’m delighted with this opportunity,” Schwarzer said this week in a telephone interview.  “The prospect of uniting all the maritime museums and moving them forward is very exciting. It’s an opportunity for the institutions and for the state.”

Schwarzer has 30 years experience in maritime history and nautical archaeology. He holds degrees from the University of Arizona and the State University of New York (SUNY) Binghamton and worked on conservation and exhibit installation of the Serce Limani, an 11th-century shipwreck, at the Museum of Underwater Archaeology/ Institute of Nautical Archaeology in Bodrum, Turkey.  Schwarzer is a founding director of the North Carolina Maritime Heritage Council and chairman of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuaries Council.

He will be based at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, and he says he does not believe his added responsibilities will slow down the completion of that project.

“Hopefully, it will be moving forward even faster,” he said.

The museum has been in the planning stages for more than two decades.  In the 1980s, a group of Hatteras villagers made a pitch to the federal government to house the artifacts from the Civil War ironclad Monitor, which were discovered in 1973 at the bottom of the ocean off the coast of Hatteras, in a shipwreck museum in their village.

Although the government decided to house the artifacts in a museum in Newport News, the villagers continued their efforts to build a museum, named for the Graveyard of the Atlantic, the area just off the coast of the Outer Banks where dangerous shoals and violent storms doomed thousands of vessels and countless mariners to a watery grave.

The idea of the founders was that the museum would celebrate the history and cultural heritage of the seafaring people of the Outer Banks by telling the story of the nation’s maritime history.

In 1995, the museum board hired Schwarzer as the executive director to raise funds and get the museum built.

For the next dozen years, the director and the board struggled to raise the funds needed to open the museum, which is located on seven acres of National Park Service Land near the ferry docks in Hatteras village. The Park Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been partners in the development of the project.

In 1999, still without enough funds to finish, the board decided to break ground and open a building, in the hope that would bring more money to the project.

The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum opened to the public in 2003 with limited exhibits.  It has had impressive visitation, but still has limited exhibits, and the main exhibit hall is still not finished.  An impressive collection of donated artifacts fills a storage area, just waiting to go on view to the public.

Museum visitors are charged no fee but are asked for a donation.  The most outstanding exhibit is in the lobby – the original 1854 Fresnel lens from the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, along with the pedestal that it rested on.  A museum shop was opened several years ago, off the lobby.

The museum board continued to face fund-raising issues and problems, and last year its members voted to ask the state to take over the project.

Last summer, the North Carolina Legislature passed a bill, making the Graveyard of the Atlantic museum the state’s eighth history museum. The lawmakers also approved $300,000 annually in recurring funds for staff positions.  Later, they approved $408,700 in funds toward finishing the museum.

When the state took over last summer, Schwarzer estimated that $2.7 million would be needed to finish the project, including about $1.2 million for exhibits.

This week Schwarzer said the state will move forward on the construction with the money awarded last summer, which, he said, “would get a big chunk done.”  But he said he could not estimate how much more money would be needed to get the job finished. 

He also said that a state-appointed committee will begin meeting next week to design the exhibits, but he said that at this point he could not estimate what the exhibits would now cost.

State officials, he said, are working on figures for completing the museum.

He also declined to speculate on when the museum will be completed.


The museum is open, according to its Web site, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. It is located near the ferry docks in Hatteras village. There is no admission fee, but donations are accepted.  The Web site is http://www.graveyardoftheatlantic.com.

Comments are always welcomed!

     Subject :

     Name :  (required)

     Email :  (required, will not be published)

     City :   (required)    State :   (required)

     Your Comments:

May be posted on the Letters to the Editor page at the discretion of the editor.